Kunz, George Frederick

Country of origin: USA
Books by this author: Curious Lore Of Precious Stones, Folk-Lore of Precious Stones, Fresh-Water Pearls and Pearl Fisheries and Their Occurrence in the United States, Gems and Precious Stones of North America, History of the Gems Found in North Carolina, Magic of Jewels and Charms, Natal Stones: Sentiments and Superstitions Associated with Precious Stones, Rings for the Finger*, Semi-Precious Stones, Gems, Jewelers' Materials and Ornamental Stones of California, Shakespeare and Precious Stones, The Book of the Pearl

GEORGE FREDERICK KUNZ George Frederick Kunz is known as “the greatest American gemologist of all time.”[1] He served as Tiffany & Co.'s' chief gemologist from 1879 until his death in 1932. Though he received some training at Cooper Union College in lower Manhattan, Kunz never finished his schooling and is considered mostly self-taught. Thanks to his vision, Tiffany became famous for its use of unusual colored stones. As Kunz recalled in an interview with the Saturday Post:

In those early days, as I have said, no so-called fancy stones were on sale in any jewelry store in the country; one could scarcely find them in a lapidary's shop, yet, reviewing those that I had gathered, it seemed to me that many ladies, even those who could afford the gesture of diamond tiara and pearl choker, would be happy to array themselves in the endless gorgeous colors of these unexploited gems. As I looked over a collection of them, with the sunlight imprisoned in the sea-green depths of the tourmaline, lapping at the facets of the watery-blue aquamarine, flooding the blood-red cup of the garnet, glancing from the ice-blue edges of the beryl, melting in the misty nebula of the moonstone, entangled in the fringes of the moss agate, brilliantly concentrated in the metallic zircon, forming a milky star in the heart of the illusive star sapphire-bow, I thought, could a woman ever resist their appeal?[2]

Indeed, as time would tell, women could not resist. Following Tiffany’s lead, other American and European jewelers incorporated a more diverse range of colored stones into their design repertoire. Demand soared. Kunz was awarded numerous honorary degrees and published over 300 articles and numerous of books on gemstones.[3] With his help, Tiffany was able to amass a truly impressive collection of gems, including a 331-carat Siberian aquamarine, rare conch pearls, and large Hungarian opals—to name a few. Some of his specimens remain part of the US national collection in the American Museum of Natural History. Kunz is also famous for discovering a new variety of pink spodumene, which was subsequently named after him: Kunzite.


  1. Loring, 70.
  2. Cited in Conklin
  3. Here are some of the books: George Frederick Kunz, Gems and Precious Stones of North America (New York: The Scientific Publishing Company, 1892), George Frederick Kunz, Gems, Jewelers' Materials, and Ornamental Stones of California (Sacramento: W.W. Shannon, 1905), George Frederick Kunz, Gems and Precious Stones of Mexico (Mexico: Imprenta y fototipia de la Secrataria de fomento, 1907), George Frederick Kunz, History of the Gems Found in North Carolina (Raleigh: E.M. Uzzell & Co, 1907), George Frederick Kunz, Ivory and the Elephant in Art, in Archaeology, and in Science (Garden City, New York: Double Day, 1916), George Frederick Kunz, The Mystical Lore of Precious Stones: The Classical Writings of George Frederick Kunz (North Hollywood: New Castle Publishing Company, 1986 [1913]), George Frederick & Charles Hugh Stevenson Kunz, The Book of Pearl: Its History, Art, Science, and Industry (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001).

Sources Consulted

Related Topics: Tiffany & Company